350-year-old stepwell in Hyderabad’s Old City begs for attention

Hyderabad: While the Telangana government restored the 17th century Bansilalpet stepwell to its former glory, the structure surrounding the 350-year-old stepwell, built as part of Toli Masjid during the reign of 7th Qutb Shah ruler Abduallah Qutub Shah, is in shambles.

As one enters the open premises of Toli Masjid in Ramsingh Pura of the Karwan area of the Old City, debris can be seen floating inside a walled structure filled with stagnated algae-covered green water.

The stepwell, which is approximately 35 metres deep and has a flight of around 130 steps inside, is now almost invisible because its surface is filled with algae water, liquor bottles, and furniture foam floating on the well’s surface.

The stepwell, which is protected by the state heritage department, was built to supply water to the mosque. Locals recalled how water from the stepwell was used for drinking purposes around 50 years ago, and how children used to swim in the well, which was now dying slowly.

“People from nearby liquor shops have been dumping liquor bottles and even foam from the surrounding furniture workshops,” said Abu Bakar Bakulka, pointing to the stepwell.

“Because the premises are unattended and unsupervised, there is no one to intervene and protect this centuries-old structure. People come and throw garbage after late evenings when no one is around.”

Afzaluddin Farooqui, joint secretary of Toli Masjid Committee, stated that a complaint was filed with the relevant authorities about three years ago, but there was no response and no further action was taken.

“We filed a written complaint with the heritage department, requesting that the entire mosque area be protected and the stepwell be restored. Because the monument is a government-protected site, all activities are prohibited. We attempted to clean the stepwell but were denied due to the restrictions. The authorities are not taking any action, and we are not permitted to do any cleaning. The situation gets worse during monsoons when the stepwell overflows. The aquifers are still active inside the well, and if it is restored to its original state, water can be provided for the mosque again,” Farooqui explained.

Authorities had only placed a concrete sheet over a portion of the stepwell, beneath which was a massive hollow indicating how the stepwell was collapsing on the inside.

P. Anuradha Reddy, co-convenor of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) and aviation historian, stated, “The stepwell inside the mosque area was beautiful, but it is now in bad shape. The garden and water channels have also vanished. We are blessed with such jewels and a rich heritage in the Deccan plateau, particularly in Telangana. It is critical that we spend the appropriate budget and hire a technically qualified workforce to restore such wonderful gifts that we have inherited over the centuries.” A senior official of the heritage department refused to comment.

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